Ikemen Sengoku – Dueling Hearts

From November the 12th to the 26th, CYBIRD’s Ikemen Sengoku mobile game hosted the Dueling Hearts Story Event, which saw warlord pitted against warlord in 3-part stories. Now that it’s over, I think it should be safe to reminisce and to talk about it. By grinding the Glam Offs, and with more than a little help from some great friends on- and off-line, I was able to complete all 5 Premium endings as well as 2 of the Sweet endings.

Probably the most straightforward duel was the one between my 2 best guys, Masamune VS Shingen. Just having come off of Masamune’s route in the main story, I was in the perfect mindset to feel loyal and faithful to him, yet tempted by the charms of Shingen.

I chose Masamune’s (Premium) ending first and actually found it a bit boring! Partly, that was because the compliments that the MC gave him felt insincere. I wished Masamune hadn’t worded the question in terms of coolness, since it seemed clear to me that Shingen’s smart and measured approach to fighting was cooler, not to mention his ability to read the situation from someone else’s point of view.

I did enjoy Shingen’s (Sweet) ending, which I took the second time around. (Full disclosure: It may be obvious already, but I am very biased. I like Shingen a lot.) In it, he and the MC got to spend a few hours together. They ruminated on what might have been if things had happened differently. It was really more bittersweet than sweet and it just hit me in the feels.

Regrettably, I didn’t take any screencaps of the Nobunaga VS Kennyo route. It was pretty interesting and shed light on Kennyo as a kind and decent person, you know, other than that revenge obsession.


From the anime, I know that Mitsunari is an Ieyasu fanboy, while Ieyasu treats him coldly in return. There hasn’t been much interaction between them in the main stories so far, at least as far as I’ve gotten. In Ieyasu VS Mitsunari, we finally got some explanation as to why they feel the way they do about each other, as their contrasting methods were applied in a duel to see who would be strongest.


Hideyoshi VS Kenshin played up the warlords’ respective personalities and was surprisingly funny. Kenshin’s pretty much a single-minded, cold-blooded thug; and I’m not saying he’d be good boyfriend material or anything, but I quite liked him in this route because he was so well-written.


The Yukimura VS Mitsuhide route was probably the most dramatic, what with the espionage and covert operations and fighting on a rooftop in gale force winds. In both endings, things escalated pretty quickly on the romance front as well. I didn’t get to follow Mitsuhide’s (Sweet) ending personally, but I have it on good authority that it included a near marriage proposal! And in Yukimura’s (Premium) ending, this:

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

An immortal warrior named Manji joins forces with a girl who is out to avenge her murdered family in director Miike Takashi’s 100th film.

I enjoyed the humour that was in the movie, although I personally thought there could have been more of it. Some of the quieter scenes dragged on a bit too, which needlessly slowed the pace in several parts.

But, as far as grand sword fighting spectacles go, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL delivered what it promised. The body count was astoundingly high. So lots of good fun, in other words.

Rin, the lead girl, was pretty useless though! If she was supposed to be nothing more than a damsel in distress, they should have just made her that. Instead, I got the impression she was one of the better students at her father’s dojo. And she trained for her revenge every day with Manji, only to end up utterly incapable of defending herself! I have to conclude that probably the villain was right when he dismissed her father’s abilities; maybe he (and his sword style) really did suck.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

spider-man-homecoming

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

This third incarnation of Spider-Man, in a span of only 15 years, stars Tom Holland as the newest friendly neighborhood web-slinger. And it gets it right, in my opinion. To my mind, this is how Spider-Man should be: very smart, very funny, and roughly equal parts cool and uncool.

After the opening credits, a recollection of the climactic fight from CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is presented, as seen from Peter’s point of view. It’s really funny stuff.

Since that incident, Peter spends his days fighting crime locally and trying to keep his secret identity from friends and family. All the while, he’s waiting for his next major assignment from Tony Stark, orders which never seem to come. But there’s trouble brewing…

The cast is terrific in this movie. Most notably, Michael Keaton (ex-Batman) is really believable in his role.

Captain America, who of course was on the opposite side of the “civil war,” does not get treated nicely by this film.

Mid-Summer 2017 Anime Ranking

This post was delayed unfortunately, due to the fact that I fell behind on my anime viewing. But as per usual, the ranking applies to the first 7 to 10 episodes of the current season only. Some of these shows have ended already and that is not being covered here. My apologies for the lateness.

Shingeki no Bahamut VIRGIN SOUL-19
01. Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL (Shingeki no Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL) (ep. 14-21) – No surprise this time. This summer has been a pretty weak season in general for anime and Rage of Bahamut 2 has had absolutely no challengers for the top spot, as far as I’m concerned.

In this second cour, I am very surprised, but also happy, that the romance subplot has become as prominent as the overarching conflict between the angels, demons, and humans; maybe more so. I didn’t go into BahaSOUL looking for love (that’s true in more ways than one), but I’m solidly onboard when the love story is set in the middle of a complicated narrative that’s populated with so many intensely likeable characters.

I continue to admire the confident and straightforward storytelling, even if this second half is maybe not quite as well-written as the first. After all, I have to admit it does seem a tad contrived that Nina and Charioce did not discuss what their side was aiming to do when they had the opportunity to. Considering that their respective goals include trying to thwart and/or kill the other party, it would have made sense to coordinate things a little bit better.

Oh yeah, after much teasing and withholding, Favaro is back for real now, a little older, a little wiser, and indeed, a little hotter than before.

ikemen sengoku 03
02. Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time (Ikemen Sengoku: Toki wo Kakeru ga Koi wa Hajimaranai) (ep. 1-10) – Warring States Era time-slip stories are a dime a dozen, but this is the most adorable series of its type that I’ve ever seen. I can’t get enough of chibi Oda Nobunaga, Date Masamune, and all the other little Sengoku warlords. Each of the mini hotties moves individually and behaves in distinctly characteristic ways too. It’s so cute and detailed! The creative camera work adds a lot to the amusement as well.

Originally, I had hoped that Ikemen Sengoku would be like the Chiruran short, only with a little more substance. Well, it has far exceeded my expectations. The random gags are really funny (especially ep. 3, when Masamune and his pals learn to rap), and there is actually an honest-to-goodness plot. As if that wasn’t enough, how about some chibi sword-fight action? It’s got that too!

I recommend watching each episode more than once. There are usually several characters on screen and a lot of little things going on at the same time. This is a 3-minute short – things happen fast.

The sexually suggestive end cards, a shout out to Ikemen Sengoku’s otome game roots, are a bit much though. I can see them turning off male viewers especially, which would be a shame.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Made in Abyss 5
03. MADE IN ABYSS (ep. 1-10) – Child explorer Riko descends into the frightening depths of the Abyss in search of her mother. She is accompanied by her newfound best friend Reg, a robot boy she picked up in the Abyss. I liked the early parts best, when Riko and Reg were interacting with the other kids in the orphanage. Things have gotten decidedly darker and more disturbing since they set off on their journey.

I am watching this anime for Reg. I love his tolerant disposition, his gentle compassion, his thoughtfulness, his intelligence, his sense of morality, and his loyalty. More than any of the show’s other great mysteries, including Riko’s mother and the Abyss itself, I am curious about Reg and want to see him get answers to the question of who he is. Where did he come from; how is he part human and also part machine? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get those kinds of answers any time soon.

Saiyuki Reload Blast
04. SAIYUKI RELOAD BLAST (ep. 1-10) – As a newcomer to the series, I’m certain there are many things I don’t understand as well as I could. However, SAIYUKI RELOAD BLAST is enjoyable even to me and it doesn’t seem to be too hard to follow in general. The 4 guys of the Genjo Sanzo Party get plenty of opportunities to show off their personalities through their interactions, and it’s often very funny.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu 09
05. Katsugeki / TOUKEN RANBU (ep. 1-10) – The Touken Danshi are Sword Warriors. They travel through time to stop the ghostly Time Retrograde Army, who are sent from the future, from changing past events.

Although the narrative got a bit unfocused in the middle, the main takeaway is how challenging it can be for the Touken Danshi to perform their duties. What if preserving history meant ensuring the death or suffering of innocents? Furthermore, what kind of toll would it take on the psyche if the doomed party happened to be someone they once knew and respected?

Katsugeki / TOUKEN RANBU is made by ufotable, the folks who gave us Fate/Zero. Unsurprisingly, this is one good-looking anime.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

06. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (ep. 14-23) – The ghost arc concluded (with the perpetrator getting off a little too easy in my opinion); and it was followed up by a handful of Sarada-centric episodes featuring her quest to learn more about her father and her lineage. In spite of being almost entirely Boruto-less, these episodes were some of the strongest of the series so far. Of course, Sarada did have the original Team 7: Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura as her co-stars.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Kakegurui - 10
07. KAKEGURUI (Compulsive Gambler) (ep. 1-10) – Jabami Yumeko, a beautiful and smart gambling addict, joins an academy that incorporates gambling into all its extra-curricular activities. There, she proceeds to mess with the social order.

The characters are rather two-faced and irredeemable all around, but there’s no denying the show can be morbidly entertaining to watch.
(to stream at NETFLIX eventually)

08. Fastest Finger First (Nana maru San batsu, 7O3X) (ep. 1-10) – The buildup for this quiz-sport anime was not that exciting, so it’s taken a while to get rolling, but Fastest Finger First has taken off now that we know the players better and they are actively participating in a quiz meet.

As an aside, we happened to catch some of the real-life high school quiz bowl on TV while we were in Japan recently, which was pretty cool. This stuff is real.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Re Creators - 17
09. Re:CREATORS (ep. 13-20) – The show continues to be pretty talky and very meta. If I’m looking forward to it more than I used to, it’s mostly because I care more about the characters now that I know them better. Well, some of them I still don’t really get, including Altair and Magane, but I did appreciate the development that Selesia and her creator, Matsubara, have undergone.

I’ve almost forgotten that Souta is supposed to be the main character though. I wonder when he will become relevant.

10. My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia) Season 2 (ep. 27-35) – The practical training placement arc and the fight against Stain were not as interesting to me as the tournament, but they did reveal that there are darker things to come. Also, while I agree that Stain’s ideology had some merit, I thought it was grossly oversimplified and overstated.

But first, it’s time for the kids’ practical exams, which is the kind of material that My Hero Academia really excels at.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun (Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun, Cleanliness Boy! Aoyama-kun) (ep. 1-10) – Ostensibly, this is a sports anime featuring a clean freak soccer player. There isn’t really all that much soccer, though; and even the clean freak isn’t the featured character in many of the episodes! He’s more of a mystical enigma that other people react to. Luckily, these other characters are quite often at least as interesting as Aoyama himself.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Ballroom e Youkoso 02
12. Welcome to the Ballroom (Ballroom e Youkoso) (ep. 1-9) – There was a lot of hype for Ballroom before it started, but compared to the other unconventional sports show that’s airing (the quizzing anime), this one surprisingly doesn’t fare as well for me. It’s actually easier to grasp the rules and strategy of quiz bowl than ballroom dancing.

I’m also finding it hard to sympathize with the characters. The females, especially, get the shaft in terms of development. It often seems they exist only to be accessories to the men; and in fact, that is the way competitive ballroom dancing is evaluated? I didn’t know that. That underlying patriarchal, boys-club vibe, embodied by Tatara’s teacher Sengoku, kind of rubs me the wrong way.

The show is clearly knowledgeable about the dancing and the fancy moves, but the actual animation is limited and consists mostly of still-shots and pans. Yuri!!! on ICE this is not. Also, those stretched necks and distorted bodies are hard to get used to, though I’m trying. It just doesn’t look that good, c’mon.

13. Princess Principal (ep. 1-9) – The episodic spy stories, which seem to be presented not in chronological order, are reasonably interesting on their own; but I think I would enjoy everything better if I knew what the overall plot was.

Or maybe I just don’t have enough of a thing for cute girls as spies.

14. CHRONOS RULER (Jikan no Shihaisha) (ep. 1-10) – The actual plot involving trying to get Victor’s time and memory back is kind of boring. What makes this thing watchable is the humour that arises from the characters’ personality traits and quirks.

For example, it’s funny how Kiri is the most serious member of the family group and yet, since he is technically the youngest, he gets the least respect. Also, it was amusing the way Blaze spent all of ep. 8 in the background trying to solve a mildly complicated math problem.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

isekai shokudou 01
15. Restaurant to Another World (Isekai Shokudou) (ep. 1-10) – Once a week, the door to Nekoya Restaurant appears in other worlds and mystical creatures can enter and enjoy an exquisite meal of western-style Japanese cuisine.

The episodes are easy to watch and the food looks good. I do appreciate that the show attempts to tie some of the random stories together, but there’s really very little in the way of plot.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. THE REFLECTION (ep. 1-8) – Well, this is different. It’s a Stan Lee anime, and appropriately, it is flat-looking and minimally animated, sort of like a Western superhero comic book come to life. It sounded like a great idea and I was looking forward to it, but the pacing is strangely slow and I’m frustrated by the lack of music during most of the scenes.

Despite being one of the main characters, X-On seems rather unmotivated; it’s just weird. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be funny or what? Once, when Eleanor was captured, he simply went back to the car and sat down! He always has a mask on, so it’s really impossible to tell what he’s thinking or feeling when he’s doing nothing, which is most of the time.

I will say 9nine’s ending song is really catchy though. In a pretty weak season for anime music as well as anime in general, “SunSunSunrise” is proving to be one of the highlights.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. Ninja Girl & Samurai Master S2 (Nobunaga no Shinobi: Ise Kanegasaki-hen) (ep. 40-49) – The other super-cute, Sengoku-period chibi comedy short starring Oda Nobunaga. While still played for laughs, this ongoing series at least endeavours to be a slightly more accurate representation of historical events than the ikemen short.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

vatican miracle examiner
18. Vatican Miracle Examiner (Vatican Kiseki Chousakan) (ep. 1-9) – Roberto and Hiraga are Vatican priests hired specifically to debunk false miracles, so they are uniquely required by their jobs to tread the fine line between being believers and disbelievers.

For a show featuring the Catholic faith, there’s an awful lot of occult, blasphemy, Satan-worship, wielding the Bible to inflict blunt-force trauma, and Nazis. It’s actually pretty hilarious. Those endless panning shots – seriously, it’s hard to find a scene that doesn’t pan – that’s hilarious too.

Quite obviously, I cannot recommend Vatican Miracle Examiner as a good anime. However, we genuinely get a lot of laughs at the expense of the show and its characters, so I won’t say it isn’t fun to watch.

19. DIVE!! (ep. 1-10) – All the exclamation marks cannot hide how boring this diving anime is. Part of the problem is that diving is a lonely, individual sport. There is no team.

DIVE!! seems to preach that if you are not giving up everything to devote yourself to the sport, then you’re not trying hard enough. I mean it’s one thing to resign yourself to the fact that you won’t have much opportunity for fun and socializing while training, and accept it; it’s quite another to have your mentors tell you outright to forget about your friends and to not be too buddy-buddy with potential rivals. It’s just so unpleasant.

Ironically, they’ve more or less thrown that out the window now. Yoichi has temporarily(?) taken over the main character role and, in spite of what he said to Tomo earlier, he’s actually interacting with his club-mates like they’re friends or something! The show is definitely better for it anyway.

20. KONBINI KARESHI (Convenience Store Boy Friends) (ep. 1-7) – I thought this would be silly and fun. Oh how wrong I was. How did we end up with a slow-moving, humourless romance following several potential couples, none of whom come across as interesting or particularly likeable? The titular convenience store is hardly in it even, and it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the story whatsoever.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

MOANA

moana

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

When her idyllic homeland becomes blighted by a spreading curse, the Chief’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the fallen hero who triggered the curse, and make him correct his wrongdoing.

The early part of the film was my favourite because it was so insanely cute! Pua the adorable pig, the little sea turtle, and baby Moana! Hnnngg!

The rest of the movie played out like a pirate adventure starring a capable heroine. It was somewhat predictable, but satisfactorily enjoyable nonetheless.

Another highlight was the animated/moving tattoos covering Maui’s body, which not only looked impressive, but was literally a character of its own.

I felt pretty meh about most of the soundtrack; not because it was bad, only that it was just not my kind of music.

BLAME!

blame

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Like the TV series KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA, this film is also an adaptation of a Nihei Tsutomu manga by animation studio POLYGON PICTURES. As such, the 2 projects have a similar gritty, dark, monochromatic aesthetic. Certainly, there are still limitations on how good CGI animation can look, but POLYGON is demonstrating here that they currently do the best work in this field. The background images and the action sequences, in particular, are stunning.

BLAME! takes place in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting in which the centralized technology operates blindly on its own, no longer recognizing the commands of humans. Instead, humans are seen as a threat to the system and are brutally purged by the Safeguard whenever they are detected. One small village of people known as Electro-Fishers has barely gotten by for decades, trapped in a protected space. But now they face extinction from starvation.

I would have expected one of the draws of the film to be Sakurai Takahiro as the lead character. Unfortunately, you might be disappointed if you are here for Sakurai, since the mysterious hero Killy hardly ever speaks! It’s a good thing (for me) Miyano Mamoru is also in this thing, in a supporting role, and his character actually gets to talk.

I was a bit disturbed by the rough way in which Killy handled the remains of Cibo. Yes, it was clear that she was basically a machine; but regardless, she looked human! I was also suitably terrified whenever the Safeguard activated to exterminate the villagers.

Some things do not get fully explained during the film, such as how Killy and Cibo came to be. Everything is also not resolved for everyone, so the door is open for a potential continuation of the story down the line.

WONDER WOMAN

WONDER WOMAN

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

A few weeks ago, we finally got out to the theatre to see WONDER WOMAN. I enjoyed it a lot. Rather than your typical modern-day superhero movie, this was set amidst the fighting and espionage of World War I. Obviously, there were some fantastical elements, but most of the developments were pretty grounded. Even Diana’s abilities were mainly the result of years of rigorous training.

For only the story itself, I was going to rate the film at 3 stars. The extra 0.25 is for Gal Gadot’s riveting portrayal of the lead character. I liked how Diana was somewhat naïve and idealistic, and yet strong and fearsome too. Depending on the situation, her demeanor could range from appearing fierce and determined to gentle and even sweet. She was just really great in this role.

MUMON – THE LAND OF STEALTH (Shinobi no Kuni)

MUMON

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

This year’s Toronto Japanese Film Festival came to a close last Wednesday night with the North American premiere of Shinobi no Kuni, a rousingly enjoyable action movie set during the Sengoku period. Director Nakamura Yoshihiro was on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.

Iga Province used to be renowned for its fearsome, highly-skilled ninja for hire. The Iga would kill without question if the price was right. Apparently, they would even sell out their own flesh and blood. As Oda Nobunaga’s forces approached their territory, in his mission to unify Japan, the Iga ninja were tasked with fighting for themselves for once, a monetarily profitless venture. How would they be able to muster up the motivation?

The acting was really good all around. The cast handled the serious dramatic scenes and the absurd comedic parts with equal flair.

The soundtrack was great too. I liked the inclusion of 70s-style rock music, which was unexpected, but really worked with the mood of the film.

Recently, I was turned off by the ugly violence in another TJFF film, Himeanole. MUMON – THE LAND OF STEALTH got it right, in my opinion. Cool-looking, largely bloodless, respectful sword fights and combat scenes are absolutely the way to go.

The movie did actually address some thoughtful themes regarding morality and honour, but it was balanced out by plenty of humour. All in all, it was a whole lot of fun to watch.

THE EMPIRE OF CORPSES (Shisha no Teikoku)

Empire of corpses

2 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

This animated adaptation of late author Project Itoh’s zombie novel takes place in a steampunk 19th century Europe in which “corpse reanimation technology” has been accepted by society as a way to provide laborers to serve the living. However, these undead never retain their souls.

Medical student John Watson secretly reanimates the body of his friend and research partner, but becomes obsessed with finding a method to return his soul as well. He gets the opportunity to search worldwide for the records of Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s work when he teams up with the British government, who also want the notes for different reasons.

First of all, the movie looked great; the art and animation were absolutely top-notch. That would be the one good reason to watch it.

The plot itself was all serious and philosophical, but it honestly didn’t make much sense to me. While it was simple to follow what was happening from scene to scene, understanding why was something else entirely. It’s kind of a failure if the audience can’t reasonably tell why the protagonists made the choices that they did, or how the villain was doing whatever he was doing (re-creating GUILTY CROWN’s Lost Christmas?…), or even what governed the behaviour of the zombies.

The name-drops of famous literary figures didn’t seem to add anything to the story either. And it was not that clear whether the ending had anything to do with Watson’s initial goal.

I confess I’ve never understood the romanticism of zombies; this film didn’t help to enlighten me.

Anyway, after watching The Empire of Corpses, my sister and I also went and re-watched the fourth episode of Space Dandy. It covered similar musings of achieving world (or universal) peace through mass zombification – except that it was conveyed much more succinctly and enjoyably.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

pirates-caribbean-dead-men-tell-no-tales

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

We are now at the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, 14 years after the release of The Curse of the Black Pearl. The series has been running for long enough that we are into next generation territory already. This film pairs Captain Jack Sparrow with Henry Turner, the grown up son of Elizabeth and Will, in a quest for the Trident of Poseidon.

Pirates of the Caribbean has always been famous for having stunning special effects, and Dead Men did not disappoint. In particular, I really liked how Captain Salazar’s hair moved as if it were permanently suspended in water – that was so cool. And, they managed to make a guillotine look like an amusement park ride – probably the most hilarious treatment of an execution device that I’ve ever seen!

It’s too bad certain action sequences were too dark to see clearly, though. Also, some of the plot developments seemed a little too convenient, but I guess it was acceptable to get things progressing more quickly.

I think I was never completely satisfied with the bittersweet way in which the original trilogy ended back in 2007. Therefore, it was good to see the issue revisited finally in this latest installment.